I re-read a book by Donald Miller recently that I just love. It’s called A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. Don is a Christian writer, but his stuff doesn’t read like a typical religious book. It’s more like the random, thoughtful ramblings of a Christian who’s trying to make sense of this crazy life. (I mean no disrespect to Don, I really connect with his books.)

One of the themes of the book is the idea of story — what makes up a good story. The elements of story are similar to the elements of life. What makes a good story makes a good life.

Don comes back again and again to the question “Am I living a good story? Or is there a better story I could be living?”

Don suggests that we can actively insert ourselves into a better story, especially if we find ourselves in a dull or unexciting one.

The Story

I wrote a song that talks a little bit about this. The first verse goes like this:

This is not a story

This is not a story I would write

If I wrote this story

I’d give myself a battle I can fight

And win…

A good story involves struggle. A good story is about a character overcoming difficulty to get something he wants. Like Don says in the book, no one would watch a movie about a guy who really wants a Volvo and saves up and buys a Volvo.

Sure, I’d love to write my own story. I’d make myself completely comfortable, and I’d be absolutely miserable. What makes a good story isn’t the avoidance of conflict, it’s the conflict itself. It’s how the character responds to the conflict and how the conflict change the character.

If you find yourself wishing for a different, better story, perhaps the answer isn’t to make things easier. Perhaps the answer is to make things MORE difficult on yourself.

As it relates to music, if you feel like you’re not living a good story with your music, it’s time to do something uncomfortable. I don’t know what that is for you. Perhaps it means announcing to the world that you’re going to record an EP during the month of February. Or maybe you’ll finally release that song you’ve been working on, or book that gig you’ve been meaning to book.

The older I get, the more I see that my greatest joy usually lies on the other side of something painful. And it makes for a great story. When I identify things I’m afraid of, I’m learning to press into that more and more. I use it as a guiding light. Whatever I’m afraid of is usually a source of pain that leads to something better. And that’s a heck of a better story than watching Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt every night. (But Titus Andromedon is HILARIOUS.)

Am I perfect at this? Heck no. I’m a work in progress. But occasionally I’ll muster up the courage to force myself to do something I don’t want to do, or to at least start.

That’s why I decided to go to Winter NAMM this year. It might not seem like a big deal to you, but I get anxious when faced with the idea of being around a lot of people for long periods of time. Don’t get me wrong, I love people. I really do. And I love interacting with them, but oftentimes the prospect of forcing my introverted self to be “on” for days on end scares me.

Wanna know what happens when I DO it? It’s almost always an enjoyable, satisfying experience, and I’m glad I did it. Knowing this doesn’t change the fact that I’ll have to talk myself into it next time, but it helps.

What are you afraid of? What story are you living right now? Is there a better story you could dive into? Tell me about it. Leave a comment below. I’ll be listening.

Joe Gilder
Home Studio Corner

P.S. You know what would make for a fun story? Doing an EP Challenge with my next month as a VIP member. I’m releasing an EP. Maybe you can do the same? Or release a single instead? Join here:


  • Glenn Shelburne

    At near 65 the story is yet to be written. Ok I played drums in 7th & 8th grade. Went to Hs and played for 4 more years. Beat them skins and learned timing. Got drafted to Nam. But joined the Navy instead. No room on the ship for a drum set. But there was this sailor who had a banjo for sale. Hay it had a drum head. Well as the story goes, he took the money got drunk and tried to outrun the law and found a tree and died. To his death i sad I will learn this instrument. Some 40 plus years later I had my first big gig. A Christmas Cantata just written and played at the Lincoln center. That was not my gig but several in our area were selected for the choir. They brought it back to our area. One of the songs had 4 measures banjo only the next 4 banjo and violin then the 40 piece orchestra and 30 plus choir join in. Will I ever learn to be Bala F. Probably not but this is my story. Ps keep up the struggle life may put you in a glorious resolve is yours for trying. And Thanks Joe.

  • Keevin

    I see story and “news” as similar. Common ordinary things aren’t interesting, so they aren’t a story, nor are they news. Something that is at a higher level of interest. Which is also sensation. We like to feel; we like sensation; we like to be moved. In these terms, then, your rejected story about buying a volvo could be interesting if it had enough sensation to it. You’re using drama and conflict as the fastest most direct easiest way to create sensation. Something to consider – this is a bit of an aside – is that teens don’t get their intellectual brain / mind until about the age of 20, and many will be in college at that age. Ideas. Ideas can be stimulating, and can be sensational. Especially when they are new to you. There are two forks to the road from here. One is that, then, teens tend to live more in an emotional world, and sensation there is of a different sort. Those things that will interest them and will move them. The other fork recognizes 3 primary ways that people orient to a story – one is visceral, one is vicarious, I think the other is intellectual – something like that. Just thought I’d throw i my 5 cents worth. 🙂 Oh, a couple more cents. There is the basic level of achieving what qualifies as a work – whether music, movie, or a book – you meet the basic qualifications – it’s not out of key, it has the genre structure, sounds like alot of other music already out there. That’s basic. Similar to what is story, what is news, is when you look further to achieve something beyond what everyone else is doing and has done. A bit of ambition, in other words. Going for what lies over the horizon, rather than staying with everything that can be seen from where we are standing (or sitting). Just a thought. (People like this would be Walt Disney, George Lucas, The Beatles – they had the basics, but kept pushing past known levels of achievement to reach something beyond what everyone else was doing.) (Bob Dylan also comes to mind.)